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Tables of Dreams

With a Stake of Borrowed Money, Archie Karas Won a Fortune
Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
Fidel Castro, Summer 94

(continued from page 2)

But Karas doesn't know the word quit.

After crushing Mr. X, Archie welcomed all comers, defying anyone to beat him at a one-on-one poker match. In April 1993, during the World Series of poker at Binion's Horseshoe, his first challenger was David "Chip" Reese, one of the few living members of the Poker Hall of Fame and generally considered the best all-around poker player in the world.

Reese is a fat man with thinning blond hair, an omnipresent cellular phone and a poker pedigree rivaled by few others, living or dead. He and his equally accomplished pal, two-time world champ Doyle Brunson, consistently play in the largest games in town and have probably beaten more contenders and pretenders out of the richest pots in Vegas than anyone who's ever held a busted flush. Multimillionaire businessmen, knowing they have little chance of winning, often play with the duo just to say that they lost to the best.

In the middle of the Horseshoe's tournament room, where $25-$50 and $50-$100 games are common, Karas, with his newly minted bankroll, and Chip, competing with the financial backing of a famous hotel owner, played Razz and Seven-Card Stud for unthinkable stakes: $3,000-$6,000, $4,000-$8,000 and eventually, according to Archie, $8,000-$16,000 limits. In approximately two weeks, Archie beat the putative champ for $2,022,000.

Resigning from the game, Reese supposedly told Archie: "God made your balls a little bigger. You're too good."

Rather than plowing his winnings into long-term certificates of deposit or even, heaven forbid, a savings account, Karas started "investing" his winnings at the Horseshoe's craps tables. Throughout the late spring and early summer in '93, he rolled the dice regularly, betting $100,000 and more on every toss of the cubes. "With each play I was making million-dollar decisions," Archie says. "I would have played even higher if they'd let me."

At his request, the Horseshoe closed down a table for him, providing a solitary battleground for Karas and his compulsion. As armed security guards surrounded the table and dozens of awestruck onlookers craned for a peek at the numbered layout laden with chips, Karas rolled to winning sessions of $1.6 million, $900,000, $800,000, $1.3 million and $4 million. At one point he had all of Binion's chocolate-colored $5,000 chips.

He also claims to have booked losers of $2 million, $2.5 million, $2.3 million and $1.5 million.

Exactly how much Archie Karas won (or lost) playing craps is difficult to verify, and in some ways, irrelevant. For no matter the final tally, this much is clear: Archie was rolling for millions; six months earlier the man had had $50 in his pocket.

The craps, Archie told me, was merely a diversion when the poker action dried up. "I know I'm taking the worst of it with the dice," Archie said. "But nobody would play poker with me for that much."

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